Thursday, November 27, 2008

Virtual Economy

As I wait to see if I win my first land auction, I was googling around and found an article published not long after my piece on commodification in SL in Journal of Virtual Worlds Research that gives some numbers to back up some of my completely unsubstantiated speculation that consumerist desires might be channeled into virtual worlds: "At Least the Virtual Economy Isn't Too Bad Yet."   According to the article, Linden Labs reports highest ever user hours in Q3 2008.  

Friday, November 21, 2008

Socializing with Out of the Box Avatars

L1 had her first surprise visitor of someone I actually know on the SL land yesterday, a very welcome one, the avatar of one of my colleagues who had read the JVWR piece and decided to check out Second Life.  He picked the Male Musician avatar, which is the same one my husband picked when I convinced him to join me in SL for an experiment, and so I was doubly confused: suddenly someone else was there, looking just like my husband, but with some strange name.  Eventually we sorted it out, but not after a little confusion with a few layers of identities: personal, professional, and virtual.  Then we had a great time, teleporting around as we could do only in SL, also crashing and experiencing enough lag to make us occasionally asynchronous, which may have a real world analog, but it is not nearly so dramatic or visual.  It was a blast, especially when his hair suddenly disappeared, and luckily he got it back.

One of the things I noticed is that when we were using text chat, it was our avatars talking, but as soon as we switched to voice chat, it was us.  I wonder if that would happen if I were talking with someone I didn't know in real life, someone whose disembodied voice I wouldn't recognize.  I certainly didn't recognize my friend in his avatar, at least not right away.  I am also curious to meet people in real life whose avatars I've come to know.  

Here are pictures of L1Aura talking with our colleague Tiak8 (who almost immediately mastered gestures like the shrug) and L1 with her husband Tich.  You can see why she was confused and has since given Tich a makeover.  The wonders of the virtual world. Tiak8's gesture below says it all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CCK08: Click (finally), as it all makes sense

The clicking sound you hear is the CCK08 material aligning with some work I'm involved in at Berklee, where we're developing a new course for first semester students.  I've been working on versions of this course for 5 years now, from various approaches; now as part of a broad curriculum review and revision, it is moving along.  

As I was cutting and pasting a lovely quotation about how a First Semester Seminar could be taught from an older concept document into a shiny new course proposal (see below), I realized many of the ideas and themes overlapped with our CCK08 conversation, especially echoing the discussions about teaching we had in the past couple of weeks in Elluminate with Howard Rheingold and others.  It has to do with separating out the functions of the teacher as content expert on the one hand and facilitator on the other, so that process, thinking, and learning become central, not content delivery.

This is how Jerry Slezak, who blogs about his experiences teaching a Freshman Seminar at the University of Mary Washington, sees the unique purpose and method of FYE seminars:

Teaching a seminar-style course to first year students, where the emphasis in the course is on inquiry, rather than presentation or even exploration of a settled body of knowledge is quite different from either an upper-level seminar or a traditionally introductory course which enrolls first year students. The fundamental purpose of the FSEMs [freshman seminars] is not to teach content, but rather to introduce students to the life of the mind. At one level this has developed as an emphasis on teaching skills, but what we’re really [trying] to  articulate is something more holistic, not skills per se, but rather a model of the process of intellectual inquiry, the art or culture of the intellectual life.
Jerry Slezak,

For our students, our approach to the “life of the mind” must include creativity and the development of the individual voice. 

I guess the insight I have to add after my "click" moment is that the technology is secondary, not primary.  In the very beginning of CCK08, the sheer volume of people arguing over the definition of connectivism in a flurry of posts and blogs was overwhelming, and it was hard to hear past it.  The technology can help make connections, or it can distract and divide us.   How we use it is what matters, and I'm glad I stuck with it until the din died down enough to really hear the ideas.  

When Howard Rheingold talked about having his social media students watch a video of him commenting/lecturing on Goffman instead of delivering that to them in class, that was really interesting.  In class, he is the facilitator, inviting them (actually, it seems, requiring them) to take on the responsibility to teaching the course.   I get a lot of resistance when I talk about making video resources like Howard is using, but I think there is a lot of value in separating the expert and facilitator functions of the teacher.  I think he is also using his video commentary as a reading, or a reading supplement, but that is a different topic (shift from text to video).  

All of this makes me realize that if we replace course content with the technological tools, we haven't gained enough, and it is an easy temptation to do that with all these fun, new toys. More importantly, we have to make sure our students know that we are not doing that.  I'm sure that Steven and George never intended for the technology to overtake the ideas, but it is how it felt to me for a while at the beginning.  Unless the learning and thinking, the life of the mind and the processes of creation, remain at the center and everything else we do is in its service, then its all a bunch of noise.  Click click. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Best Practices for Teaching with Media: Fair Use

The Center for Social Media at American University has posted a fantastic Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education.  Taking the lead from how documentary filmmakers have interpreted fair use in their field, leaders in media education have staked out a useful set of 5 principles that guide their practices and they are based on what teachers and students need for teaching and learning.  Awesome.

Monday, November 10, 2008

L1 Speaks (and Lori Writes) in JVWR

The second issue of The Journal of Virtual Worlds Research includes a "think piece" I wrote with a video response by L1Aura Loire on youtube and inworld Hopefully this will be the beginning of a collaborative project between the two of us, using writing and video for an actual/virtual dialogue about topics pertaining to virtual worlds.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obama Party in SL: 9:03 pm

The sim was full, the avatars were dancing and cheering, and things are looking good in RL and SL for Obama.

CCK08 In the Daily!

I have arrived!  I made it into The Daily e-mail sent out by the CCK08 instructor!  Instead of simply doodling in the margins of my own virtual notebook, filling pages with my solitary musings, I am connected.  Node-a-rific.

Monday, November 3, 2008

CCK08: Lurker vs. Bad Student/Success vs. Failure

The inevitable grumblings have begun for CCK08.  It would be interesting to analyze CCK08 as an internet phenomenon, as an example of a viral meme, tracking hits and participants, etc.  I imagine it has similar shape to most trends: small trickle at first, critical mass, big bulge, then a falling off, with only the diehards and seriously interested people left to fully participate.

One of the things that is interesting is that this course is supposed to be participatory, and, as I commented on a blog posting on whether CCK08 is failing, maybe there is a difference between a lurker and a bad student.  I think in my earlier post about being a mediocre student, when I decided to keep lurking (although I didn't use that term at the time) although I just wasn't that into the course, I grappled with the question of whether it is okay to be a passive student in this particular context.  

It felt bad to me to be a lame student, and certainly if I were a registered student expecting a grade then I would get what I deserved.  But what do I deserve in this context?  What happens when there is no carrot or stick other than what I want to learn, contribute, and how I want to connect?  This is learning in a pure sense, unmotivated by grades, getting credit for the course, or any external measure. (OK, the experience has become part of my sabbatical project, but it doesn't have to be.)  How can success or failure be assessed for me (only by me, I guess), or for the course (by each participant)?

And as a teacher who is being a voluntary student in this experience, I really don't have any of the student's experience of the fuzzy end of the lollipop of power: of getting grades that seem unfair (too low or too high), of having to do assignments that seem pointless or stupid or take up too much of my time, of having to listen to someone else drone on about whatever little thing it is that they have spent their life studying, of not being able to do what I want when I want to.  That's life, we tell our students, and part of what you're learning is to be able to adapt to the real world of deadlines, arbitrariness, and, well, power relations.  Learning to be a good student means learning how to negotiate what ideally is a well-designed mock-up of a real-world situation, with some room for do-overs, hopefully with some valuable guidance from someone who knows something you don't.

Does social networking change the landscape of the real world?  Sure.  It adds a new level of discourse, one that's being figured out and revised as it develops.  It's a moving target, and our students will shape it.   I've certainly learned a lot by lurking in CCK08 about how to use social networking/Web 2.0 tools in my teaching.  And in order to gain that knowledge, I am grateful to the "good" students who have been dutifully doing the work so I could watch the experiment until I felt comfortable enough to start jumping in.  (I think I will also be more aware of my f2f students' different levels of participation after this experience.)

Whether the course is a failure or a success for the registered students, or in general, on what terms?  It was done in the spirit of an experiment, to see what would happen, and so in that way it is a huge, smashing, big, messy success, because a lot of things happened.  It certainly provided a useful model for this mediocre student/avid lurker.  And it ain't over 'til it's over.